Category Archives: 2014

The Boy’s Own Annual: Deception And Propaganda In Children’s, War-Time Literature

© 2014 David Eatock

The Boy's Own Annual, volume 37 front cover. Boy's Own Paper 1915
The Boy’s Own Annual, volume 37 front cover. Boy’s Own Paper 1915

The Boy’s Own Annual, is a periodical that ran from 1879-1967 comprised of what are deemed the best works submitted to their monthly issues throughout a given year. The publication is aimed at the audience of young boys and the stories range from adventure tales, to slice of life high school sagas, to war stories. The issue that will be given specific focus in this analysis is number 37, comprised of works released between the years of 1914-1915. While the Annual is a revered publication for both its long-standing history and its immense popularity during the time in which it was released, this analysis will not be focused on justifying its relevance or documenting the exhilarating thrills it gave its young readers, instead the aim of this article is to unearth the subtext found within its pages and the way that it strings together a complex narrative that misleads and conditions its readers. While the stories are for the most part well written and on a surface level may seem harmless in regards to the time period in which they were produced, when one looks further they see that the blatant Orientalism, the concerted downplay of the dangers of war and the instillment of nationalistic pride and focus on sports serve the purpose of grooming young boys into willing soldiers.

Orientalism And Linking Narratives

The first aspect of The Annual that will be addressed is the blatant and thorough orientalizing of African cultures and people. The most blatant act of Orientalism appears in the serialized story “In The Power Of The Pygmies” written by Charles Gilson. In this story there are constant depictions of pygmies, which are presumed to be Africans, as savage, uncivilized monsters who pose a great threat to the cordial, English way of living. In the opening segments of the story the pygmies shoot poison darts and gnaw at the wrists of Englishmen, as depicted in the picture, taken from The Annual, below. 

From "In The Power Of The Pygmies."
From “In The Power Of The Pygmies.”

It is important to distinguish why a story like this is written, aside from penning a tale for children depicting a culture far removed from their own. In Edward De Said’d famed book, “Orientalism,” he asserts that, “The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe” (Edward De Said, Orientalism, 71). In looking at a story such as “In The Power Of The Pygmies” in conjunction with the assertions of De Said we see that what is created for young audiences is a sensationalized, subversive depiction of African cultures, totally created by European powers.

What is important though is less the specific culture being depicted and more so the ethos pervaded by the act of Orientalizing. What stories such as this teach children through their subtext is that foreign cultures are inferior and hostile and that they must be tamed. This thought is depicted further in other articles in The Annual, such as one entitled “Empire Citizens” which beings with a recollection of Rudyard Kipling’s, “The White Man’s Burden” to which the writer responds “But does the Britain complain of this? No; on the contrary, he is proud of it. He loves to think that he is a citizen of no mean empire, that his flag flies on every sea and waves over every continent… To govern and control, wisely and well, a hundred other races.” (The Boy’s Own Annual, Empire Citizens, 36). The firm nationalism promoted by this sentence is problematic in connection to the Orientalism depicted in “In The Power Of The Pygmies” as segments such as the photo depicting the African biting the wrist of the Englishmen pervade the thought that the pygmies are a risk to the civilized English way of life. So, if Britain is as vast and powerful as the quote states, if it is so great that it is entitled to “govern and control, wisely and well, a hundred other races,” than logically the pygmies are in need of European domination and governance.

The Africans, or pygmies as Gilson calls them, were obviously not a civilization that was prominent in the English consciousness in regards to the war of the time. The nation that was more prominent in regards to conflict with Britain in this era would be Germany and The Annual also features unflattering depictions of them. In a scene from the editor of The Annual Arthur Lincoln Haydon’s story “For England And The Right,” a German teacher ordered to teach young English students refers to them as “thick headed, ignorant English boys” (Boy’s Own Annual, 257).

While this is fitting with the adversarial personality of the character, if we link this with “In The Power Of The Pygmies” we can see that a similar idea is being produced. In Gilson’s story the pygmies betray the nationalistic pride that is conveyed in something like the aforementioned “Empire Citizens,” and as such they must be governed and controlled. So, to connect the three narratives in the order of “Empire Citizens,” “In The Power Of The Pygmies,” and lastly, “For England And The Right”; Britain is a great nation that has the right to rule over others and when a nation disrespects or is dangerous to the British way of life they must be controlled. Germany is disrespecting the British way of life, so by the logic put forth by the other two stories Germans must also be controlled. This shows the multi-faceted nature in which these texts convey meaning and as the pygmies are an easy way to imbue otherness through being complete opposites to the British, the acts of Orientalizing help to plant an idea within the readers head so that it can later be manifested in reference to the true militaristic enemy of the time, that being Germany.

Sports And Soldier Grooming

Sports and athleticism are also an interesting facet of The Annual in the way that they are used to shape young boys. For instance in an article entitled “Football And War” the writer states that, “War is the serious, vital thing of which all our games of antagonstics are but imitations: imitations designed in part by way of amusement and recreation, but also essentially as part of the process for preparing the individual, as a mode of training and hardening him, for the real, grim business of warfare,” (Boy’s Own Annual, 95). This quote paired with the incessant focus on sports within The Annual shows how the periodical did not disguise its use of sports as institutionalized imperialism. Another quote to give further depth to the sports commentary can be found in the article “My Views On Halfback Play” where the writer states that “As in the case of most games, to achieve success a start must be made early.” (Boy’s Own Annual, 127).

If we link the messages of these two texts we see what is being conveyed is that children should start playing sports early and as such they should also start their development as soldiers early, if sports are, as the text states, preparation for the business of warfare. For further insight into the claims of propaganda in stories such as this, in a book entitled “The First World War” written by Ian Mackinnon and David Bell they state that countries would “self-mobilize” and that they would often run absurdly patriotic stories (Mackinnon, Bell, Ian, David The First World War, 29). Sports stories such as these are a example of the absurd patriotism noted in this book, as what are often times seen as mere leisurely past-times are being manipulated into war grooming tools. As such, it is not out of the question, in fact, it is probable to think that most of the sports stories featured in The Annual at this time were serving the purpose explicitly stated in the story, “Football And War.”

War Danger Minimized And Public Perception As An Issue

Another area of particular intrigue is how war is depicted in The Annual, that being, in a way where the dangers of war are greatly minimized by the stories and articles. For example, in an article entitled “Piloting, The Royal Flying Corps” a great deal of time is devoted to qualities of the pilots such as the amount of honor they receive or the amount of pay and the article even goes so far as to explicitly state that the pilots do not have much of a role in fighting and as such they are not in particular danger (Boy’s Own Annual, 33-36). The one line in the article that does insinuate the danger for war pilots is at the very end of the article when the writer says, “The toll of the reaper is heavy,” but this line is immediately followed by “There will be many gaps to fill in the ranks of those who have acquitted themselves so nobly,” (Boy’s Own Annual, 33-36).  As such we see the danger here is only present in order to show that it is essential that more young people enlist.

The concept of danger, or lacktherof, is also spearheaded by the aforementioned “In The Power Of The Pygmies” as though the Englishmen are faced with innumerable conflicts in the wake of being captures by pygmies, they aways resolve said conflicts with ease and there is never a point where it does not feel like they will prevail. For instance, after an Englishmen escapes his captives the pygmies are shot down with ease (In The Power Of The Pygmies, 208, 206-216).

Further downplay of danger is pervaded in the images of the text, most notably a photograph of English soldiers drinking tea in a German dug out.

Image from The Boy's Own Annual depicting English soldiers in a dug out
Image from The Boy’s Own Annual depicting English soldiers in a dug out

While in a publication printed for young boys photos of atrocities would of course not be featured, this particular image portrays the war as something leisurely and altogether safe. This is absurdly misleading and when paired with other articles written in The Annual it puts forth a dangerously deceptive message to its readers.

Though perhaps not intentionally misleading, there are also problems created through how readers and reviewers document works such as The Annual. For example, in a book called “Take A Cold Tub, Sir!” former editor of The Annual Jack Cox repeats phrases such as “The vigorous and racy tales delighted many generations” continually (Cox, Jack Take A Cold Tub, Sir! 34). In another book written by Dennis Butts and Pat Garret entitled “From The Dairyman’s Daughter To Worrals of the WAAF,” The Boy’s Own Annual is chronicled in speaking of its readership, the multitude of audiences in which its content could reach and the general popularity of the text (Butts, Garret, Dennis, Pat, From The Dairyman’s Daughter To Worrals Of The WAAF, 133-145) and also a Spectator review of The Annual from 1889 only states that it contains thrilling adventure stories that could entertain either boys or girls (Anon, The Girl’s Own Annual And The Boy’s Own Annual, 669).

The issue with reviews and documentation such as this is that they ignore the ramifications that certain stories and articles have on the reader and on culture. Furthermore, they pervade the sense that the content of stories in The Annual such as “In The Power The Pygmies” are without subtext or cultural commentary, rather they are just vapid, exciting entertainment for one to read on their spare time. This is a dangerous practice as it should be well known that there is always thematic relevance and undertones to stories and this is perhaps a reason for the power of war time propaganda and even propaganda of our own time. Reading is seen as a fun distraction, especially when stories are tailor made for young boys and as such the messages imbued within stories containing blatant Orientalism, misrepresentations of war and sports articles with clear, ulterior motives, such as those contained within The Boy’s Own Annual, are ignored by the public as their effects rub off on the youthful readers.


Butts, Dennis and Pat Garret. From The Dairyman’s Daughter To Worrals of the WAAF: The Religious Tract Society, Lutterworth Press and Children’s Literature. Cambridge: Lutterworth 2006. 137-144. Print

Cawood, Ian, and David Mckinnon Bell The First World War. London: Routledge, 2001. Print

Cox, Jack. Take A Cold Tub, Sir!: The Story Of The Boy’s Own Paper. Guildford, Surrey, England: Lutterworth, 1982. Print

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.

Haydon, Arthur Lincoln, The Boy’s Own Annual. 1st ed Vol. 37. London: Boy’s Own Paper Office, 1915. Print.

Anon: The Girl’s Own Annual And The Boy’s Own Annual. The Spectator 16 Nov. 1889: 669, Google Books Database

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad: Anthropomorphism and The Great War

© 2014, Joanne Roitman

A copy of the 1918 reprint of the original 1916 edition of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad is housed in Ryerson University’s Children’s Literature Archive. The book is written by Thornton Waldo Burgess and is illustrated by Harrison Cady. It was published in Boston by Little, Brown, and Company and falls under the genre of nature stories and anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is defined as attributing human characteristics and emotions to non-living things and/or animals.

I wish to connect Old Mr. Toad to the Great War. As America did not get involved until 1917, I will explore the publishing company’s decision to reprint the novel during the final year of the war. Due to the sparse information on the novel’s production and reception, I will be contributing new insights to this topic and will provide future researchers with a thoroughly investigated narrative. As well, my critical approach shall be oriented to the increase in demand for anthropomorphic children’s novels during WWI, in which Old Mr. Toad is an example.

Book Cover of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (1918) by Thornton W. Burgess
Book Cover of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (1918) by Thornton W. Burgess

Summary of the Novel

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad begins with the character, Peter Rabbit, who, after hearing Mr. Toad sing rather beautifully, realizes that perhaps he had misjudged his friend. He relied on the inevitable fact that Mr. Toad was not physically attractive and thus could not sing well. Incidentally, he is proven wrong and attempts to get to know Mr. Toad better. He learns about Mr. Toad’s children, his beautiful eyes, his long tongue, and his ability to camouflage within small, dark spaces.

As the novel progresses, so does the narrative perspective, shifting from Peter Rabbit to Old Mr. Toad. He encounters the terrifying Mr. Blacksnake and Buster Bear, but after dining on ants with Buster Bear, he no longer regards him as scary. Believing himself a very important friend of Buster Bear’s, puffed out with pride, Mr. Toad shuns his old friends. He believes himself better than them. In turn, they play a prank on him in order to teach him that he was behaving rudely.

Thornton W. Burgess and The Great War

For unspecified reasons, Thornton Waldo Burgess was unable to participate in active service during the Great War (Burgess 134). However, he found three alternative methods of contributing to the war efforts on the homefront. This was done through the medium he knew best: storytelling.

The Green Meadow Club

“The Green Meadow Club”, a column in the People’s Home Journal, contained entertaining and instructive stories on nature, written by Burgess, with illustrations by Harrison Cady. The club led a campaign during WWI to get children involved in the war efforts through donations (Meigs 33). The hope of this charity was to establish bird sanctuaries. The creation of these sanctuaries was intended to protect birds, as they were valuable in controlling troubling insects. As a result, this would help increase the production of food for the war.

Burgess capitalized on this in his “Bedtime Stories” column, published separately from “The Green Meadow Club”. He offered a certificate of club membership and a button with Cady’s drawing of Peter Rabbit to those who contributed. Through the efforts of roughly two thousand boys and girls, nearly four thousand sanctuaries were erected. They were situated in various parts of America and encompassed nine thousand acres of land.

In 1919, after the war ended, the New York Zoological Society awarded Burgess with a gold medal of the Wild Life Protection Fund (33-34). His service to the protection of wildlife and the war efforts was recognized. As a writer of children’s fiction, it was a great honor to be acknowledged in the natural science world.

Happy Jack Squirrel

Happy Jack Squirrel

A campaign arose in America during the Great War for the sale of war-savings stamps and thrift stamps among children. This was done for school children who could not afford to purchase Liberty bonds. The American government issued the sale of Liberty bonds in order to finance the war efforts in Europe.

The chairman of the War Savings Committee in Sandwich, Massachusetts approached Thornton Burgess and appealed to him to produce five stories geared towards thrift and patriotism (Burgess 134-135). Consequently, the character of Happy Jack Squirrel was created.

Burgess was able, through the stories of Happy Jack, to increase the sale of stamps. Before, school children did not understand their purpose and were uninterested in their teachers’ constant appeals. Thus, such stories of thrift, as told by an anthropomorphic squirrel, were much more engaging. Happy Jack was able to preach what the children could do to support America during the war, without appearing patronizing (138).

Burgess employed a psychology of human superiority in these stories. Children would listen to Happy Jack only because they felt that they knew better than he did. Unlike their teachers who they looked to as their superiors, the children believed that what Happy Jack dictated was something they already took to be known and true. As a result, young readers were able to grasp the importance of thrift and patriotism as taught to them by an anthropomorphic squirrel (139).

As a consequence, it became apparent to Burgess the power of anthropomorphism in storytelling, especially as to its effect on the efforts of children during WWI (140).

The Adventures of Bob White (1919)

In 1919, Thornton Burgess wrote The Adventures of Bob White as a response to the violence that accompanied the end of WWI. In this Bedtime Story-Book, he used the anthropomorphic quail, Bob White, to illuminate the danger of firearms (Connor 127).

Bob White is wounded by a hunter and pays homage to the persecution of innocents during the Great War. Children can identify with the abjectness of the situation, while simultaneously feeling courageous, as someone is in more need than they are (128).

The character of Bob White was being written as Little, Brown, and Company reprinted The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. It would appear that the publishing company wished to use Mr. Toad to educate children within wartime with a less heavy hand than in The Adventures of Bob White.

Production and Reception… Or Lack There Of

After conducting a thorough investigation into the production and reception history of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad, I unearthed something most curious. Rather, there are no documented sources on such topics as it relates to the 1918 reprint of Old Mr. Toad.

Thus, I have taken it upon myself to make inferences as to why that is. On the basis of research and educated decisions, I shall deduce why a hole exists in relation to production and reception history.

The Bedtime Story-Books and the Mother West Wind series are the best-known collaborative works between Thornton W. Burgess and Harrison Cady. The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad is a part of the Bedtime Story-Books series, but the titular character was not one of Burgess’s most beloved. Rather, the recurring character of Peter Rabbit, inspired by Beatrix Potter’s character of the same name, was prolific. Eventually, this character was renamed Peter Cottontail.

As well, Cady’s rise to fame was through the comic strip, Peter Rabbit, which ran in a weekly Sunday newspaper (Zipes 243). As a result, much of the research on production and reception history, as it relates to the partnership between Burgess and Cady, is on such a character. In fact, it would appear that Mr. Toad is all but forgotten and dismissed by readers of the Bedtime Story-Books. Interestingly, the story within Old Mr. Toad explores this very once-over: Peter Rabbit and the other woodland creatures realize that they had misjudged Mr. Toad, as they previously never paid him much attention.

Analysis and Conclusion

As Old Mr. Toad was not one of Thornton W. Burgess’s most popular characters, it is no wonder that I could not find any details on The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. However, I can infer that the demand for anthropomorphic characters within children’s novels was on the rise during WWI, which could be reason for its reprint. Such stories contained morals and Burgess used the animals as instructors to teach children how to behave (Cullinan 131-132). Furthermore, the technique of anthropomorphism was used to arouse the imagination.

Peter Rabbit and Old Mr. Toad, illustrated by Harrison Cady
Peter Rabbit and Old Mr. Toad, illustrated by Harrison Cady from The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (1918)

Incidentally, Burgess was criticized for humanizing animals and nature, which seems contradictory to the aim of his animal and nature stories (Watson 116). He wished to provide a friendly face to such wild, untamed beings, realizing their value in the sustainability of the environment. As the 1918 reprint of Old Mr. Toad was released during a time of turmoil, it would appear that American children needed to learn how to behave at this time through Mr. Toad.

Similarly to Happy Jack Squirrel and Bob White, Mr. Toad provided a lesson in morals and behaviour to the young boys and girls, as he encouraged them to be humble. Peter Rabbit also taught readers to not be so quick as to judge a book by its cover. These lessons are valuable for children and were regarded as important during the last year of the Great War.

Anthropomorphism was a storytelling technique employed by Thornton Waldo Burgess in his novel, The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. The increased demand for novels featuring such genre was on the rise during the final years of WWI. As an American author, Burgess’s original 1916 book of the same name was reprinted a mere two years later, in relation to the involvement of the United States in 1917.

Such novels featuring anthropomorphic creatures were very popular at this time as they taught young readers morals and encouraged good behavior. In addition, they were very imaginative and could be enjoyed by both children and adults.

Consequently, I have concluded that the publishing company, Little, Brown, and Company, chose to reprint Old Mr. Toad in 1918, as the titular character was able to instruct children without sounding as though he was preaching. Children are more likely to listen to the lessons being taught by an animal, in which they view themselves as superior, as opposed to parents, teachers, and other adults. This psychology enabled Burgess to become a beloved children’s novelist and provided the basis for Little, Brown, and Company’s reprint of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad in the final year of the Great War.

link to CLA Omeka

Works Cited

Burgess, Thornton W. Now I Remember: The Autobiography of Thornton W. Burgess. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1960. 134-140. Print.

Burgess, Thornton W. The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. Illus. Harrison Cady. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1918. Print.

Connor, Kathleen M. Beyond the Words of a Storyteller: The Cine-Semiotic Play of the Abject, Terror and Community in the Anti-Hunting Trilogy of Thornton W. Burgess. Diss. University of Ottawa, 2007. Ottawa: privately published, 2007. 125-128. Web.

Cullinan, Bernice E., and Diane G. Person. “Burgess, Thornton.” The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. New York: Continuum, 2001. 130-131. Print.

Dowhan, Michael W. Introduction. Thornton W. Burgess, Harrison Cady: A Book, Magazine, and Newspaper Bibliography. By Michael W. Dowhan. New York: Carlton Press, 1990. 1-3. Print.

Meigs, Frances B. My Grandfather, Thornton W. Burgess: An Intimate Portrait. Beverly, Massachusetts: Commonwealth Editions, 1998. Print.

Oehlkers, Peter. “Happy Jack’s Thrift Club.” Thornton W. Burgess Research League. N.p. 4 May 2010. Web. 18 March 2014.

Tindall, George Brown. America: A Narrative History. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Print.

“The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad.” Gutenberg. David Newman. 15 June 2004. Web. 18 March 2014.

Watson, Victor. “Burgess, Thornton.” The Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books in English. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 116. Print.

Wright, Wayne W. “The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad.” Thornton W. Burgess, A Descriptive Book Bibliography. Sandwich, Massachusetts: Thornton W. Burgess Society, 1979. 49. Print.

Zipes, Jack. “Burgess, Thornton W.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Vol. 1. 4 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 232. Print.

Zipes, Jack. “Cady, Harrison.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Vol. 1. 4 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 243. Print.

Rilla of Ingleside: An Account of Canadian Women and War

© Copyright 2014 Jennifer Spiteri, Ryerson University

<em>Rilla of Ingleside</em>


L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1921, New York is held by the CLA collection at Ryerson University. Written for young women after World War I, this first edition is signed by the previous owner, Jennifer Bevan. The signature may be found on the front free endpaper of the novel, illustrated by Edward Sheldon. As the eighth and final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, this novel differs from the rest of its kind. Standing as one of few representations of Canadian war experience (Silvey 310), and offering a rare representation of Canadian women during WWI, it can be argued that this narrative is more than just a work for children. Montgomery’s novel provides an important voice to the battles fought by Canadian women on the home front. I set out to explore how this narrative was used by Montgomery to present a historical representation of women’s roles during WWI. In order to do so, I will discuss Montgomery’s depiction of Canadian females’ roles through the main character Rilla. I will then focus on the inclusion of Montgomery’s personal experience as a Canadian Woman during the war. Finally, I aim to analyze biased opinions that Montgomery included within her novel while representing  WWI.

Rilla of Ingleside Front Endpapers
Front endpapers of Rilla of Ingleside illustrated by Edward Sheldon and signed by previous owner Jennifer Bevan in the top, right corner.


Rilla of Ingleside is a story written from the point of view of Anne and Gilbert Blythe’s youngest daughter, Rilla Blythe. As a 15 year old Canadian girl, Rilla is simply concerned with her small world and is focused on going to her first dance, where she hopes to gain the attentions of Kenneth Ford. Rilla’s carefree personality and lack of ambition are expressed, in contrast with her wish to be considered a serious adult. Rilla’s world is turned upside down when the beginning of World War I is announced at the dance. She is forced to face the reality of war and the demand that it will have on her as a female. Rilla must suddenly endure many hardships including parting with loved ones such as her brother Jem, who immediately enlists, and Kenneth who eventually enlists. She must also act as a trustworthy confident to her brother Walter, who is fearful of war and thinks of himself as a coward for failing to enlist. Rilla feels as if she is responsible to contribute to the war efforts and starts the junior Red Cross in her area. The extent of Rilla’s maturity is tested when she finds a war baby whose mother has died and whose father is fighting at war. The child is placed into her care and the importance of her role as a female becomes greater. Rilla can be considered a guardian and hero, having saved a life. Her strength as a woman during WWI is further tested when her brother Walter enlists for the war and is killed. Rilla’s brother Shirley also enlists when he turns of age. The novel approaches an end when the duration of the war is over. It is clear that by the end of the war that Rilla’s life and position as a female has dramatically changed. She has lost her admired brother Walter, she turns over care of the war baby to its father, and her lover Kenneth returns home to her. Although Rilla undergoes extreme transformation, the war assists her in finding her place in the world. Through Rilla’s character, one may gather an understanding of the importance of women’s roles and contributions to Canadian society during the war.

Montgomery's Published Journals
The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario presents Montgomery’s journals, published in five volumes and written between 1889-1942.


Montgomery compiled Rilla of Ingleside in an attempt to share the experiences of Canadian women and the importance of their roles during WWI. She wished to write a serious novel differing from her previous stories. Despite her wish, the demand from her audience and editors for more Anne of Green Gables books pressured Montgomery (DeGagne 2-3; Tector). Montgomery knew that her writing had to provide an income, and a new novel, outside of her famous series, would not be as widely accepted or as successful (DeGagne 6). Despite her dissatisfaction with the continuation of the series, she produced Rilla of Ingleside. Though this novel is a part of the series, it is somehow different from the others as it contains important representations of the roles of women during WWI. Montgomery had found a way to give her fan base what they wanted, while still writing the serious novel she had dreamed of. Tector explains that Montgomery described it as her only purposeful novel. Much of the content from the novel was inspired by her personal journals (Silvey 310). Having been somewhat based on Montgomery’s first hand experience, the novel revealed dark insight into Canadian life during the war. In her personal journal, Montgomery explains that an early publisher, Stokes and Company, suggested she lighten the contents of the novel1 (qtd. in Webb 66), but Montgomery refused to provide a false representation of war to her readers. Montgomery’s publisher also believed she should have included more recognition of the US (DeGagne 8). Once again, Montgomery rejected this suggestion, due to her decision to focus on bringing recognition to patriotic Canadians at war (8).

Rilla of Ingleside Title Page
On the title page, Sheard is quoted in commemoration of sacrificed youth.


Despite the gloomy subject of war New York Times reviewed the novel, in relation to the Anne of Green Gables series, as a “captivating sunny story” (Webb 66). On the other hand, Globe and Mail discussed the novel in contrast to the rest of the series, highlighting that it focused more on the reality of war than the character of Rilla (“Life and Letters”). Despite the positive reviews, the novel also received some criticism. In Montgomery’s journal2 she discusses an Australian pacifist who viewed the novel as a, “‘beastly book’  because it ‘glorifies war’” (qtd. in Webb 67). The novel was also viewed as an essential account of History and the Canadian war experience. In response to the novel’s release, a Canadian librarian explained that the book would stand as an important part of Canada’s history and the war (67). The novel was an overall success and by the year 1924 an impressive 12,000 copies had been purchased (67).

Analysis in Relation to Theme via Critical Approach

Representation of Canadian Female’s Roles During WWI Through Rilla 

Through the character of Rilla, Montgomery exemplifies the contributions of Canadian females during war. Although males are highlighted as heros, Montgomery proves that women held equally important positions in supporting their country. The novel reflects drastic changes in the roles of women within a patriarchal society during WWI. Women, unlike men, did not have the sole expectation of fulfilling one role, as they were unable to become soldiers (Coates 67). Females were then left without direct guidance and were expected to create their own roles (67). Rilla exemplifies this through her longing to help which leads to her formation of a junior Red Cross group. Through Rilla, the feelings of stress and anxiety that women experienced are made clear. Rilla is left unsure of whether or not her lover or brothers will return, which also reflects what women were left to worry about on the home front in Canada. Women were expected to care for their children by themselves, and remained unsure of their fate as well as their children’s. Single mother responsibility in situations where fathers left home to fight in the war are displayed. This is evident within the case of the war baby, James. Through Rilla, the roles that single mothers had to play are made clear, as she cares for the child without the present support of its father.

Red Cross Poster from WWI
A Canadian Red Cross poster from WWI encourages those on the home front to contribute to the war effort (Designer and Printer Unknown).

The Inclusion of Montgomery’s Personal War Experience Through Rilla

In her novel, Montgomery included many of her personal experiences and views of the war, which she wrote about in her journals (DeGagne 16). Montgomery herself contributed to the war efforts and was a member of the Red Cross (18). This was reflected in Rilla’s decision to begin a junior Red Cross group in her own community. During her work towards supporting the war efforts, Montgomery witnessed particular women slandering the work of others (18). Montgomery believed these women did not deserve to be commemorated (18) and expressed their dishonorable characteristics in her novel through Irene Howard, a character who caused difficulty and disturbances in the Red Cross group. This character’s negative attitude stands as a contrast to highlight the honourable roles that women such as the heroine Rilla played.

Using Rilla as a motif, Montgomery exemplifies the growth of herself, as a female author, as well as the roles of females, during the war. At first, Rilla is seen as childish and is not taken seriously. This can be viewed as a reflection on the reception of Montgomery’s earlier children’s works. It may also mirror the perceived unimportant roles of Canadian women prior to war. As the story evolves, Rilla is taken seriously which parallels the growth of Montgomery’s series, while also reflecting the growth of women’s roles and their importance during the war.

Bias and Support of War Through Rilla

Although Montgomery does attempt to offer a serious representation of war, her biased opinions are made clear throughout the novel. In Montgomery’s letters to Ephriam Weber3 her annoyance and negative opinions of pacifists are displayed (qtd. in Tector). Montgomery’s biased opinions are made clear in the novel when she frames pacifist characters, such as Josiah Pryor, as disliked, mischievous and unworthy of being considered a Canadian (Montgomery, 1996 219). Montgomery worked to show patriotic women in support of war in a positive light, using Rilla as the epitome of a respectable and patriotic Canadian (DeGagne 18). This is evident through Rilla’s pride when she sees her brother Jem in uniform and comments on the “splendid” idea of so many Canadian men immediately enlisting in honor of their country (Montgomery, 1996 43). Although Montgomery’s stance can be perceived as biased, one must take into consideration that supporting war and being patriotic were intertwined values at the time the novel was written (Webb 67). Even though the novel may be reinforcing Montgomery’s own personal values, it still reflects the views of many other Canadians during the war. It can then be argued that Montgomery’s biased opinions still illustrate the dominant views of the time.


Based on the above evidence it can be gathered that Rilla of Ingleside is and can be studied as more than a novel for children. Having provided insight into the roles of Canadian women during the war, Montgomery’s work contributes greatly to the history of Canada. Montgomery not only gives voice to the experiences of Canadian women, she also includes significant accounts of her own war efforts and involvement. Through her revelations, it is made clear that although women may have felt as if they could only sit at home and cry (Montgomery, 1996 35), the battles they fought on the home front were equally as heroic and deserving of being commemorated as those of Canadian male soldiers.

Link to Rilla of Ingleside in Ryerson’s CLA Catalouge

L.M. Montgomery Canadian Bookman January 1909

L.M Montgomery was recognized in The Canadian Bookman, in 1909 for having written the popular work Anne of Green Gables that spurred on her eight novel series, ending with Rilla of Ingleside.


1. Webb in reference to L.M Montgomery’s, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery 

Volume II: 1910-1921, see page 404.

2. Webb in reference to L.M Montgomery’s, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery 

Volume III: 1921-1929, see page 387.

3. Tector in reference to a letter written in 1916 from, L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to

Ephraim Weber 1916-1941.

  Works Cited

Coates, Donna. “The Best Soldiers of All: Unsung Heroines in Canadian Women’s Great

War Fictions”. Canadian Literature 151 (2011): 66-99. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

DeGagne, Debra Childs. Women Worth Fighting For: Revaluing Gender and War in

‘Rilla of Ingleside’. Diss. Royal Military College of Canada, 2012. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2012.

ProQuest. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

“LIFE AND LETTERS.” Rev. of Rilla of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery. Globe and Mail 1

October 1921: 19. ProQuest. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Montgomery, L.M. Rilla of Ingleside. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1921. Print.

—. Rilla of Ingleside. N.p. Seal Books, 1996. Print.

Silvey, Anita. “Montgomery, L.M.” The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their 

           Creators. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. 309-310. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

Tector, Amy. “A Righteous War?: L.M. Montgomery’s Depiction of the First World War in

Rilla of Ingleside.” Canadian Literature 179 (2003): 72–86. ProQuest. Web. 15 Feb. 2014

Webb, Peter. Occupants of Memory: War in Twentieth-Century Canadian Fiction. Diss. U

Ottawa, 2007. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2007. ProQuest. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Works Consulted

Montgomery, L.M. Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery. 5 Vols. Ed. Mary Rubio and

Elizabeth Waterston. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1985-2005.

Montgomery, L.M. L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to Ephraim Weber 1916-1941. Ed.

Paul Gerard Tiessen and Hildi Froese Tiessen. Waterloo, ON: MLR Editions Canada,


Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia – Escapism and Appropriation

©2014, Katherine Galang

P rince Caspian: The Return to Narnia is a children’s fantasy novel written by Clive Staples Lewis (more commonly known as C.S. Lewis) and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. It takes place in 1941, during the Second World War. The first edition was published in London, England by Geoffrey Bles in 1951. The Ryerson Children’s Literature Archive’s copy, however, is the sixth edition, published by the same company in 1966. The critical approach I will be taking for this exhibit focuses on the theme of escapism in Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Specifically, I shall address how Lewis uses fantasy literature to appropriate the Second World War for child readers, who would have both experienced the war and dealt with the aftereffects.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia 1951 book cover


Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia is a fictional novel written by C. S. Lewis. It is the sequel to the book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. A year has passed since the Pevensie siblings have returned to England after having ruled Narnia as Kings and Queens respectively. In Narnia, however, over a thousand years have passed since the children’s departure. A foreign people called the Telmarines have since invaded and have driven the Narnians into the wilderness; reducing them to nothing more than memories and myths.

Prince Caspian X, the titular character, is the rightful heir to the throne. His uncle, King Miraz, took sovereignty by assassinating Caspian’s father, Caspian IX, and kept Caspian X alive until his heir was born. Sensing the danger, Caspian flees the palace into the woods, where he calls for help through Susan’s magical horn. This summons the Pevensie children to Narnia. Together the former Kings, Queens, Narnians, Aslan himself, and all their allies fight to regain the throne and restore balance in Narnia.


A Brief History of the Second World War:

The Second World War was fought between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied powers (Britain, The Soviet Union, and the United States). This war was a continuation of the First World War, and occurred, in part, due to the heavy demands placed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles (Wright).

Adolf Hitler, who rose to power before the beginning of the Second World War, had a dream of the unification of Germany and the survival of the Aryan race whom he saw as superior. To ensure the survival of the Aryans, Hitler felt that certain actions were necessary. The primary objective was to occupy and populate Soviet territory. Hitler did this because he believed that more land would ensure the survival of the German population. This objective was called the Lebensraum (Lyons 47).

Second, for the Aryan race to survive, all other inferior “bloods” must be eliminated. These included the handicapped, homosexuals, political opponents, and, predominantly, the Jews (Lyons 47). Hitler’s anti-Semitic sentiments were an ideology that preexisted within European society since the First World War. As minorities, the Jews were blamed for the defeat of Germany. In the Holocaust, millions of Jews perished under the ideology that they were inferior and degenerate people.


British Children in the Second World War:

Prior to the Second World War, an evacuation program was set up in Britain that was planned as early as 1938 and put into motion in 1939. Those of first priority during the evacuation process where children ages 1-15, according to Carlson Jackson who studied the British Evacuation Program. Of that group, those ages 5-15 were classified as Category A, the easiest to evacuate, and accounted for about 20 percent of all evacuated children. These children were evacuated in mass groups through their schools. It is particularly important to note that those children are the ones who would have the greatest recollection of the ordeal, and the Pevensie children fall under this category. By doing this, Lewis allowed his readers to connect to his characters and face the same hardships as they did.


An Appropriation of the Second World War:

In chapter four of the novel, readers are introduced to Prince Caspian X and his evil uncle Miraz. Central to the book’s plot is Miraz’s hate of “Old Narnia”. Old Narnia is a reference to the time when Narnia was solely inhabited by talking beasts and mythical creatures. In the novel, the mere mention of anything relating to Old Narnia is dismissed by Miraz as “nonsense” and “for babies”. As Doctor Cornelius explains to Caspian:

Cornelius Caspian

All you have heard about old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts…It is you Telmarines who silenced the beasts…and are trying to cover up even the memory of them. The King does not allow them to be spoken of. (Lewis 49)

By eliminating those who posses knowledge of these people (such as the Old Nurse), Miraz makes these creatures nothing more than myth. Therefore, Miraz become an appropriation of Hitler and the Narnians an appropriation of the Jews. In this way, the mass death and destruction of a race is toned down for children who may not fully understand the situation, but should know of it in some form.


Caspian and the Child Evacuee: 

Caspian’s initial meeting with Nikabrik, Trufflehunter, and Trumpkin parallels the situation of British evacuees. Caspian, who was forced to flee for his life, crosses paths with three different individuals. Each represent the three different types of reception that British Children received from their host families. Trufflehunter, the badger, welcomes Caspian with open arms and represents the families who were kind and welcoming to the children they took in. Nikabrik is hostile towards Caspian and represents the families who felt the burden of having another mouth to feed. This interaction represents the children who experienced terrible conditions during their evacuations. Trumpkin, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent towards Caspian. He represents those who took in children out of duty, but did nothing more than what was required of them. Lewis, aware of how children were greeted by their host families, understood that each situation was unique, but that each situation a child faced during their evacuation generally fell into one of these three categories.

Nikabrik, Trumpkin, and Trufflehunter saving Prince Caspian

By adding in these three characters and their ongoing conflict with accepting Caspian, Lewis identifies the hardships of fitting into another family and finding one’s place after being uprooted.  Lewis again appropriates the war and gives his child readers identifiable and relatable situations.


Narnia and Escapism:

Escapism is defined as looking for enjoyable things to divert or distract one from thinking about their realities (“Escapism”). In the 1940’s, many children felt lost and out of place. Lewis therefore used fantasy realism as an appropriate way of taking real situations and making them easier to understand, by making it appealing and less devastating for children.

In this novel, Caspian represents the children who were recently evacuated while the Pevensie children represent those already evacuated. For the Pevensie children, their return to Narnia represents the urge to retreat to a place of comfort, familiarity, and refuge. Narnia is a place where they have agency. In the real world, a child has no control over anything. They have no control over the war, where they are sent, who they will stay with, or those who they will live with. However, Narnia is a place where the child rules. It is the child that  has the power, not only to make decisions that affect their surroundings, but that affect them directly. 

At various points in the novel, Lewis mentions how Narnia changes people by giving and promoting agency. When Edmund  was battling Trumpkin, he gradually began to regain his swordsmanship and skill. Lewis wrote, “But the air of Narnia had been working upon him ever since they arrived on the island, and all his old battles came back to him, and his arms and fingers remembered their old skill. He was King Edmund once more” (Lewis 94). It is the land itself that changes Edmund and restores his former skill. The longer he stays, the more he becomes who he once was and wants to be. He changes from a child to a King.

Trumpkin losing his duel against Edmund

Edmund’s case is not the only one where Narnia promotes the childrens’ agencies. Peter becomes more like High King Peter when he challenges Miraz to single combat (155-56). His eloquently dictated letter shows that he wields his pen like a sword and is as powerful as any adult in this land, though he is merely a child.

In each of these instances, Lewis places the children in situations that allow them to enforce their own strength and power. The Pevensie children who have already grown up and became capable adults in this magical land, gain the ability to grasp that same agency upon their return. It is one’s agency that allows the children to escape their unhappy reality.

Above all, Narnia allows the children to understand the stakes of war. The war that they are fighting in Narnia is a reflection of the war being fought in the real world. As former Kings and Queens, the children realize that if they lose, the Narnians will not survive. This parallels the situation in Europe, for if the British and the Allies lose, the Jewish people will be eradicated.  However, while the Pevensies can do nothing about the situation in Europe, they have active roles in Narnia where they have the power to save the Narnians.


Lewis and Stories:

As Donald E. Glover states, stories are powerful because they are able to blur the lines between reality and fantasy (78-79). If anything can be said about Lewis, it is that he held a special place in his heart for his child readers. Hundreds of letters written in his own hand were sent to children in reply to their enthusiasm. For the Chronicles of Narnia series, which would be one of Lewis’ biggest successes especially with children, his reading provides a way for children to recall war time and evacuation, and make sense of it all. John Bremer states in his brief biography of Lewis, “The frightening incidents in the book are not so frightening that children cannot enjoy them…” (54). Lewis’ Prince Caspian provides a reading that both appropriates war and evacuation.  It creates a fantastical realm where children feel powerful and can deal with any situation they are put in.

For Lewis’ initial 1951 readers, Prince Caspian brings up painful emotions and memories. However, through  fantasy literature, Lewis creates a self identifiable and motivating story that helps children sort through feelings of helplessness and displacement. This particular copy of Prince Caspian was publish in 1966, twenty-one years after the end of the second world war. Why would Lewis’ Narnia series, and more specifically, Prince Caspian, remain such a popular book that it kept being reprinted? By this time, child evacuees would be in their twenties and thirties. These are adults who once read the book in the aftermath of the war, to escape their reality, and to make sense of why it happened and how to move forward. Perhaps, the continued success of this book is in its ability to continually appropriate the war for children. Parents, who experienced the war, might teach their children about what it was like to be evacuated by giving their children Prince Caspian. Through this, they share from generation to generation the hope and the strength that escaping to another realm gives.

As Ford states, good stories can make one think twice about a concrete idea (13).  The war was a bleak time; for children, feelings of abandonment and helplessness were common. Lewis gave his readers a place to explain why bad things happen, an escape to deal with those bad things, and hope that even the most helpless people can make big differences.

 Link to CLA Omeka site

Works Cited:

“Escapism.” Compact Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus.  3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia: A complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. Print.

Glover, Donald E. “The Chronicles of Narnia, 1950-1956: An Introduction .” C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. Print.

Jackson, Carlton. Who Will take our Children?: The British Evacuation Program of World War II. Rev. Ed. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2008. Print.

Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. 1st ed. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1951. Print.

Lyons, Michael J. “The Road to War.” World War II A Short History. 5th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

Wright, Edmund. “World War II.” A Dictionary of World History. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Open WorldCat. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Romanticizing the War Through the Imaginative Space of Fairy Tales

© Copyright 2014 Lauren Matera, Ryerson University

Fig 1. Front Cover from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; cover).
Fig. 1. Arthur Rackham. Front Cover for The Allies’ Fairy Book.

Introduction to The Allies’ Fairy Book

Heroism, bravery, violence, romance, villainy and a love of the land are just some of the important themes found in fairy tales. These themes can also be seen in discourses surrounding the Great War. More specifically, such fairy tale motifs are integrated with the historical context of the Great War in The Allies’ Fairy Book (Fig. 1), a compilation of fairy tales published in 1916 by William Heinemann and J.B. Lippincott, and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Heinemann was a man in favour of the war effort, and J. Lippincott was a children’s publisher and author himself, which gives insight into their interest in this project (St. John 157; Kokkola). An edition of this text was also circulated in Toronto in 1916 by S. B. Gundy (“The Allies’ Fairy”). The Heinemann and Lippincott edition is housed today in the Children’s Literature Archive at Ryerson University.

Often, the influence of the Great War on both women and children is underestimated. However, children experienced loss of loved ones and were proven to be very much aware of and involved in the war (Gillis and Short). This exhibit will explore the imaginative space of the fairy tale as ideal for selling the themes of war to children. Although not explicitly, these particular fairy tales are resurrected from existing repertoires and employed as propagandistic tools to familiarize children with wartime ideologies such as violence. These tales of fantasy also serve as a form of reassurance for children of the Great War that eventual safety, security and a “happily ever after” are guaranteed.


Fig. 2. Frontispiece from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; facing 68).
Fig. 2. Arthur Rackham. “At the dead time of the night in came the Welsh Giant.” Illustration for “Frontispiece” of The Allies’ Fairy Book.

The Allies’ Fairy Book is a collection of thirteen fairy tales from eleven Allied nations of 1916. English, Welsh, Scotch, Irish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian and Belgian countries each are represented by one tale, as well as three shorter Japanese tales. The introduction by Edmund Gosse claims that although these stories have been connected with the folk lore of many nations at different points in time, the form of each story chosen for this particular publication is characteristic of the country with which they are associated in the fairy book (Gosse ix). Although each collected tale is different, many of them share common themes and classic fairy tale tropes including the brave hero, the three part quest structure, the villain and the “happily ever after” ending.

Throughout the book are eleven full page colour illustrations and a frontispiece (fig. 2) depicting scenes from the fairy tales, as well as smaller monotone illustrations all created by Arthur Rackham. Rackham was one of the foremost illustrators of his time and with the onset of war, he was involved in numerous publications of a patriotic nature, like The Allies’ Fairy Book (Hudson 104).

Selling the War: Fairy Tales as a Tool of Wartime Propaganda

Often, literature is contextual in nature and may be used in different ways depending on socio-historical factors. Denise Escarpit as cited by Zipes, notes that, “According to how a tale was cloaked, it could assume very diverse forms that were functions of social and cultural imperatives” (Zipes 9). Although the fairy tales collected in The Allies’ Fairy Book are not written specifically for the purposes of wartime propaganda, popular children’s literature forms, like fairy tales or picture books, become invested with new meanings because of the surrounding context of war (Johnson 60). As the preface to The Allies’ Fairy Book states, “It is when the hearts of country folk are hushed and silent that the mysterious voices of goblins are heard calling…” (Gosse xii). Well known stories are therefore brought back in unstable times to serve a new, political purpose.

Fig. 3. Arthur Rackham. "And thereupon King Lludd went after him and spoke unto him thus: 'Stop, stop,' said he." Illustration for Lludd and Llevelys in The Allies' Fairy Book. Facing p. 32.
Fig. 3. Arthur Rackham. “And thereupon King Lludd went after him and spoke unto him thus: ‘Stop, stop,’ said he.” Illustration for “Lludd and Llevelys” in The Allies’ Fairy Book. Facing p. 32.

Wartime propaganda began in 1914 as an emphasis on values such as patriotism and duty (Simmonds 227). These meanings are latent in fairy tales and can be drawn out only by looking at the themes of these pre-established tales and matching them with similar wartime ideologies. For example, the themes of patriotism and allied interdependence are found in the Welsh tale, “Llud and Llevelys” (Fig. 3.) In this story, one brother rules over France, and one over Britain.  When three plagues fall on Britain, the two brothers come together to free the land of the plagues and live in peaceful prosperity from then on. Although the allied connection was non-existent prior to 1914 when this tale was originally created, the contemporary child of the Great War may imbue the text with this meaning of international camaraderie between allied countries due to the historical moment they are living in.

The child was expected to carry on as normal during the Great War on the home front, and these fairy tales provided a means of coming to understand and accept the effects of war (Gillis and Short). Thus children, presented early on with ideals of patriotism and nationalism, become familiar enough with war to stand in good faith if ever called to support their state (Johnson 65).

Binding the Allied Nations Through a “National Literature”

One propagandistic aspect of this book is in the title of the work itself. Naming the collection The Allies’ Fairy Book carries with it the suggestion of commonalities among the allied countries of 1916. The familiar “once upon a time” narrative is one that is native to the fairy tale genre in general, despite the individual national characteristics of different tales (“Once Upon” 47-48). The idea that a book of fairy tales has been created specifically for citizens of allied countries evokes a common heritage in their folklore. This is affirmed in the introduction by Gosse which notes that “We have not forgotten the almost universal distribution of fairy-tales, and the uniformity with which a certain tradition reappears in the legends of one country after another” (Gosse xii). The children who read this book could understand their own individual nation in relation with the other allied countries mentioned, and could imagine where they fit in on an international level.

The Brave Fairy Tale Hero and the Glorification of Violence

One of the main audiences for the text at the time of its production was young children as it was historically advertised as a beautiful Christmas book for children and was targeted to children in newspapers right through to 1918, the final year of the Great War (“Books for Children” 16). Ideals of the war could therefore be sold to children latently through these fairy tales.

Fairy tales are invested with new meanings due to the context of war, and thus the glorification of violence can be transferred from the pages of The Allies’ Fairy Book, to the real experiences of the child living through political and social upheaval. Cesarino valiantly slays the dragon and is met with celebration in “Cesarino and the Dragon” and the king’s son is thanked heartily for helping a raven defeat and behead a snake in a great battle between animals in “Battle of the Birds ” (Gosse). The Allies’ Fairy Book does not shy away from violence and in fact, celebrates the brave hero committing the violent acts. The question then becomes, how does this impact child readers living through the Great War?

Fig 3. He Tumbled into the pit and Made the Very Foundations of the mount to Shake from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; 3).
Fig. 4. Arthur Rackham. “He Tumbled into the pit and made the very foundations of the mount to shake.” Illustration for “Jack the Giant Killer” in The Allies Fairy Book. p. 3.

On the one hand, the child is fascinated not by the upward social mobility in fairy tales, but by the overcoming of dangers and the following praise that comes of it (“Fairy-Tale Hero” 318). Certain aspects of war, such as new technologies, which served as a means of violence and a source of fear for adults, actually emerged as a source of interest and excitement in written work by children during the Great War years (Gillis and Short). Many people viewed the war as a noble crusade and children seem to have adopted similar ideas (Paris 6). With this in mind, the connection between violence and virtuous duty can be drawn out in  “Jack the Giant Killer” as Jack, the young English boy, proudly kills giants in honour of the king of England who rewards Jack’s nobility with a castle and estate (Fig. 4). It would be with pride that a child (especially an English one) read about Jack’s violent victories as a service to his country. The purpose of propaganda was to indoctrinate children into the war (Johnson 59-60). Although the fairy tales do not explicitly elicit children’s support of war, the themes express a valorization of values which are in common with it.

However, there is also more to fairy tales than the external action. As Tatar suggests, there is a question as to whether fairy tales can serve as an antidote to feelings of defenselessness during the period of war (238). To this end, symbolic wish fulfillment or the “liberating potential of the fantastic” as Zipes calls it,  plays a part as well (Tatar 242). In the imaginative space of the fairy tale, children can see their own experiences of danger and trauma located at a distance in the “once upon a time” of the fairy tale and see the potential for safety and security provided by the “happily ever after” (Tatar 242). For example, Little Peachling in the Japanese tale, “The Adventures of Little Peachling,” battles with a band of ogres and takes their king prisoner in order that the conquered ogres will hand over their treasures (Gosse 86). Little Peachling brings his winnings home to his foster parents and they all live in eternal peace. Although the story does not relate directly to the experience of war, the prospect of a peaceful outcome for the brave protagonist following violent battle serves as symbolic reassurance for the child living through a period of total upheaval.

Wartime Values in Rackham’s Illustrations

All editions of The Allies’ Fairy Book are illustrated by popular children’s literature illustrator of the time, Arthur Rackham. It was not unusual for Rackham to sign deals with both American and European publishers in order to increase the printing numbers and thus widen the geographical area of reception (St. John 105). Rackham was an important name to have attached to such a work and his illustrations proved to be a big selling point for buyers at the time. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that a special deluxe edition of only 525 copies was created and signed by Rackham to be sold to collectors (Hudson 169-170). It was common for Rackham to create these special editions on handmade paper, number and sign them and then sell them at a much higher price than trade copies which shows that people were willing to pay for an original and personalized Rackham work (St. John 105). Also, the fact that many historical advertisements have The Allies’ Fairy Book listed under headings such as “This Years’ Rackham” supports the idea that his drawings were indeed a main selling feature (“Heinemann’s” 535). Thus, one of the major targeted audiences for the book was collectors of the illustrator’s work.

Fig. 4. So Valiantly Did they Grapple with Him that they Bore Him to the Ground from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; facing 68).
Fig. 5. Arthur Rackham. “So Valiantly Did they Grapple with him that they bore him to the ground.” Illustration for “Cesarino and the Dragon” in The Allies’ Fairy Book. Facing p. 68.

The illustrations in this work serve to reinforce the romanticization of fear and violence, which are both wartime themes. Perhaps the best example of this is the image from “Cesarino and the Dragon” (Fig. 5) where Cesarino stands bravely in front of the king’s daughter, armed with a knife and ready to defeat the monstrous dragon. Cockrell describes Rackham’s drawings as beautiful yet sinister which is apparent in this image which uses light colours to depict a darker scene of violence (313). The violent act is also set up as one of heroism by having the frightened looking woman taking cover behind Cesarino, the hero who can be likened to a soldier of the Great War with his armor and weapon. The protective paper for the image has a quote which states “so valiantly did they grapple with him that they bore him to the ground and slew him” (Gosse, facing 68). The word “valiant” depicts the way that the images expose children to the themes of heroism and excitement which many imagined the war would include (Wilcox). However, the image does little to reflect the actual grim and monotonous life of soldiers in the Great War (Wilcox). Thus, the illustrations highlight specific romantic or chivalric aspects of violence in order to foster a more positive perception of violence in general which can then be transferred to the surrounding context of war.

Link to CLA catalogue entry for The Allies’ Fairy Book 


Works Cited

Books for Children. Advertisement. The Globe (1844-1936) 23 Dec. 1918: 16. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb.

Gillis, Stacy, and Emma Short. “Children’s Experiences of World War One.” The British Library. British Library, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Gosse, Edmund, comp and intro. The Allies’ Fairy Book. 1st ed. Illus. Arthur Rackham. London: William Heinemann; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1916. Print. Children’s Literature Archive, Ryerson University.

Heinemann’s New and Forthcoming Books. Advertisement. The Spectator 4 Nov. 1916: 535. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work. Illus. Arthur Rackham. London: Heinemann, 1974, 1960. Print.

Johnson, Eric. J. “Under Ideological Fire: Illustrated Wartime Propaganda for Children.” Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War. Eds. Goodenough, Elizabeth and Andrea Immel. Detroit: Wayne State U pub., 2008. 59-76. Print.

Luthi, Max. Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana U Press, 1970. Print. 

—. “ The Fairy-Tale Hero: The Image of Man in the Fairy Tale.” Folk & Fairy Tales. Ed. Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. 4th ed. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2009. 315-323. Print.

Kokkola, Lydia. “Joseph Wharton Lippincott.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford Reference, 2006. Web. 10 Mar. 2014

Paris, Michael. Over the Top: The Great War and Juvenile Literature in Britain. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Print.

Simmonds, Alan G.V. Britain and World War One. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

St. John, John. William Heinemann: A Century of Publishing, 1890-1990. London: Heinemann, 1990. Print.

Tatar, Maria. “‘Appointed Stories:’ Growing Up with War Stories.” Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War. Eds. Goodenough, Elizabeth and Andrea Immel. Detroit: Wayne State U pub., 2008. 59-76. Print.

“The Allies’ Fairy Book (Book, 1916) [].” N. p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

Wilcox, Vanda. “Combat and the Soldier’s Experience in World War One.” The British Library. British Library, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Nicolas Debon’s A Brave Soldier : Remembering the Young Fallen Soldiers of World War One

© 2014, Shermein Baluch

A Brave Soldier - Written and Illustrated by Nicolas Debon
A Brave Soldier – Written and Illustrated by Nicolas Debon

 Young Canadian Soldiers:

W hen in August of 1914 public proclamations such as: “Your King and Country Need You! Will You Answer The Call?” were issued to Canadians, many families answered the call but at a great cost.  They answered the call by sending their men and boys to fight the Great War.  Proclamations containing enticements, advertisements and war propaganda created much fervor.  War promised adventure and called out to the fantasies of children as young as 15.  Caught up in the frenzy and excitement, many boys too young to enlist, lied about their age and went overseas to fight.  Service men had to be at least nineteen years of age and older.  However, sixteen year old boys could join the service with the written consent of their parents (Browne p.10).  Many parents, not realizing the gravity of their decision at the time, willfully consented to sending their underage boys off to war.

Debon's illustration of a battle scene.
Debon’s illustration of a battle scene.

Why did young men, aged 15, 16 and17 enlist in the military? Was it to sacrifice their lives in the name of pride, glory, or patriotism?  According to World War One historian Gary Browne the answer may be that, they were more susceptible to propaganda and willing to take orders.  He writes that, “They believed in their indestructibility and had a general incomprehension about risk or danger” (Browne p.14).

Canadian men and their families were under the assumption that the war would end shortly.  They assumed that the boys would be back home by Christmas the same year but their hopes were shattered because the war went on for many years and a great many lives were lost.   Frantic letters and telegrams by parents to those in-charge, pleading for the safe return of their underage sons went unanswered because sadly, it was too late for many.

In Loving Memory of Brave Soldiers 100 Years Later:

3. Farewell
Frank says good-bye

On the 100th  year anniversary of the Great War that started in 1914, the Children’s Library Archive at Ryerson University looks back to honor those who lost their lives in World War One.  Housed in the CLA collection is Nicolas Debon’s A Brave Soldier.  A beautiful book that narrates a tale of loss, separation, war and wisdom.  Rooted in history, Debon‘s story is a fictional account of the journey of one brave young soldier named Frank.  Debon narrates Frank’s journey to the front lines of the battlefield in France during the Great War era.  Debon’s story is unique because it highlights the loss and disillusionment of warfare rather than the glory and victory that are usually associated with war in conventional war stories.

Nicolas Debon’s A Brave Soldier:

Battle scene as depicted by Debon
Battle scene as depicted by Debon

Written and illustrated by Nicolas Debon, A Brave Soldier is a work of fine art.  Debon currently lives in France.  He is a writer and an illustrator of immense talent.  The English edition of this book is published by Groundwood Books, a Canadian company.   Groundwood Books published A Brave Soldier in 2002 as part of a line-up of radical texts.  Radical children’s texts contain a different message than conventional texts geared towards children.  Rather than obedience and complacency, the message here is of critical thinking and questioning authority (Mickenberg & Nel).

Debon’s illustrations are powerful yet subtle.  The illustrations are congruent with the message that war is destructive.   Illustrated using Winsor and Newton acrylics, the images are produced in a painterly style.   A majority of the 34-pages that this hard-cover edition comprises of, consist of Debon’s fine illustrations.  The images are an important part of this book, which is ideal for children as young as four and up.  Even adult collectors of beautiful books would enjoy this piece in their personal libraries.

The Story:

Set in 1914, this is a story about Frank’s journey as a young soldier to the front line of battle and the wisdom that he acquires once there.  A young Canadian boy named Frank joins the regimen with his older friend Michael.  Without knowing anything about war, Frank enlists in the military. They travel to Europe by ship to fight alongside the British.  Saying goodbye to his father, his mother, and his sweetheart, Frank embarks on a journey to no man’s land.  However, Frank’s initial enthusiasm fades once he confronts the reality of war.  He witnesses death, destruction, disease, and misery in the trenches.  Frank is seriously injured and watches his friend Michael die on the battle ground.  That moment changes his entire perspective.  Needless to say, that this story does not have a happy-ending.  It is sombre and closes with Frank standing alone in a field full of the gravestones of the dead and buried soldiers, including his best friend Michael.  In A Brave Soldier, Debon’s genius is manifested through a delicate storyline that contains a powerful latent message and is told in the most sensitive manner.


Groundwood Books is an independent Canadian publisher operating in Toronto for the last 35 years.  They produce texts of fiction, non-fiction and picture books for children and adults of all ages.  Published by Groundwood Books Nicolas Debon’s A Brave Soldier follows a theme that their other publications for children tend to follow as well.   Some scholars have called these “Radical Texts” (Mickenberg & Nel).  Radical texts tend to be about war, poverty and social inequality.  They emphasize the need to question authority and to speak up against injustice.  Radical texts for children deal with complex social and political issues in a sensitive way, making it easier for children to understand historical, social and political material.  Indeed, they deviate from the conventional lesson of obedience to authority that  children are usually taught.  Radical texts are coded with subversive messages that encourage children to speak up, ask questions and to think critically about the world that they live in.


A Brave Soldier was well received by a number of reviewers.  Canadian educational institutions were among those who appreciated the content and the context of Debon’s work.  Reviewer Victoria Pennel writes that, historical fiction allows readers to “vicariously experience the past through a storyline” (Pennel p.5).  It presents concepts that are sometimes hard for children to grasp such as war.  However, she argues that “historical fiction is generally a more interesting way for children and young students to learn history but in using this approach with students it is important to make them aware that the main aim of this genre is to tell a story and not to provide historical data” (Pennel p.5).  At the same time, Pennel writes that Nicolas Debon’s A Brave Soldier is “sensitive” in its telling of the horrors of war (Pennel p.5).  Other reviewers such as Hazel Rochman of The Booklist, an on-line forum of expert reviewers from the American Library Association, have praised A Brave Soldier for its poignant approach in depicting the futility of war.  Reviewers generally agree that A Brave Soldier is an important text, and recommend that it should be used in school libraries for elementary school children across Canada.

Narrative Structure:

A Brave Soldier resembles the traditional structure of an adventure tale.  The hero leaves ordinary human society in order to accomplish something great but he experiences disillusionment rather than glory in the battle field.  From the beginning, to the middle and till the end, the narrative progresses sequentially from order to chaos, light to dark and from innocence to wisdom.

The story strays from the conventional message of adventure tale because it depicts war as a tragedy.  It does not promote the idea that war is fun, exciting, and necessary.  Instead, it professes the view that, war equals destruction and those who choose war should question their own choices.  A close reading of Debon’s text reveals that it contains a radical and rebellious message.  It emphasizes the need to speak up against war.  Coded within the structure of adventure tale is a tragedy that needs to be confronted.  Michael dies at the end and Frank is injured physically and burdened emotionally.  In this story as in real life, war equals heart-break.

The storyline progresses from order to chaos.  Beginning with the tranquility of home and family, it quickly progresses towards uncertainty of place, insecurity of life and ambiguity of purpose.  This is a narrative of sacrifice.  A brave soldier sacrifices everything and puts his life on the line.  Of all the sacrifices though, the biggest and most ironic sacrifice seems to be of the soldier’s own personal freedom.  Frank exercises his agency by enlisting in the military and by doing so, he willfully consents to forfeit his own freedom.   After he enlists, we see that his personal freedom vanishes completely.  As a soldier Frank is plucked from his hometown, shipped overseas, given orders to follow, provided a uniform to wear and placed on the front line of the battle ground.  Ironically, in fighting for peace and freedom the soldiers give up that very thing, their own personal freedom.

Plot and Theme

6. Injuries
An injured soldier being carried away

The plot revolves around the Great War and a young man’s journey from home and to the trenches.   A boy is removed from his hometown in Canada, and placed in the war-zone in France only to end up in a graveyard.  The two main characters are Frank and his older friend Michael.  Frank survives while Michael dies at the end.

Frank goes to the market.
Frank goes to the market.

Some of the major themes found in A Brave Soldier are sacrifice, war, propaganda, ignorance and wisdom.  The narrative also touches on the phenomenon of group-think mentality and the importance of independent thought.  For example, when Frank goes to the market and sees the crowds gathered, it is then that his friend Michael influences him to enlist in the military.  Both Michael and Frank follow the crowd and line up to enlist.  Besides, their motives to go to war do not include patriotism.  Both Frank and Michael join the war for superficial reasons, spawned by misinformation.   Their decisions are based on the need for adventure, thrill-seeking and peer pressure.  Michael is looking for an adventure and according to Debon, Frank knew nothing about war but did not want anyone to think that he was a coward.  Their motives indicate the degree of their youth and innocence.  Debon’s characters are not motivated by patriotism nor loyalty to the King.  They are simply misinformed young boys who end up making the wrong choices.


Debon’s painterly depictions of the narrative are remarkably beautiful and powerful in a subtle way.  Using an analogous color scheme of earthy yellow subdued acrylics and complementary hues of blue, Debon captures both the innocence of the soldiers and the chaos of the war in a muted way.  The faces are expressionless.  There are no sharp edges.  The images seem to melt and fade into one another.  This creates the effect that the reader is viewing a recollection of faded memories.  The illustrations are done with Winsor and Newton acrylics on cold pressed water-color paper.  They are crucial to the story and add a visual layer of meaning that compliments the story.

Debon’s illustrations for A Brave Soldier are rich with repetitions and motifs.  At a closer look, we see that the image of the cross is present in almost every illustration.  Crosses in the context of WWI signify the church, religion, the monarch and death.  However, when the image of the cross is rotated slightly it represents something entirely different but very much within the context of Debon’s message.  The cross rotated represents a negative, something crossed out, wrong, faulty, something to be removed.  It is precisely the lesson that the protagonist learns, that war is wrong and must be avoided.  As well, the expressionless faces depicted by Debon are intense in the effect that they create.  They invite the  reader to respond with empathy.  By filling in the facial expressions through his/her imagination, the reader is more likely to relate to the characters on a personal level.


Nicolas Debon’s book A Brave Soldier is a beautifully illustrated text with a highly thought provoking narrative.  As a text of historical fiction for children, this book is a great tribute to the young brave soldiers of the Great War, on the 100th year anniversary of World War One.  It gives voice to those Canadian soldiers who lost their lives, as well as, to those who survived and lived to tell about the horrors of war in the trenches.  It does not glorify those deaths but rather poignantly and silently depicts the destruction of warfare, and the disillusionment felt by a soldier.  This story gives the reader an opportunity to remember the war and its cruelty.  While at the same time, it gives the reader an opportunity to pay respect to, and to meditate on, the great sacrifices made by the brave soldiers of World War One and their families.

War is not glorious and nor is it an adventure but it is a reality.  Although Frank and Michael enlist in the military by choice; however, societal pressure and war propaganda compel them to make that choice.  Nicolas Debon’s A Brave Soldier shows how misinformation that associates war with adventure, and the fear of being called a coward; combined with, appeals to a population’s patriotism in the name of ideology, is the crudest form of war propaganda, and it guides individual behavior.  Debon’s text is a critical look at war.  It is an important text because it seeks to inform and to empower children.  By educating children at an early age about the reality of war propaganda, as well as, about individual agency and the freedom to choose we may change the world and produce a future generation of peaceful critical thinkers.

7. Death
A Brave Soldier – Written and Illustrated by Nicolas Debon

Link to CLA Catalogue


Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory . Manchester, U.K: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print.

Browne, Gary F. Forget-me-not: fallen boy soldiers. St. John’s, Newfounland and Labrador: DRC Publishing, 2010. Print.

Canada.  Canadian Hertitage and Canadian Meuseum of Civilization Corporation. War Canada and the First World War. Web. 10 02 2014. <>.

Debon, Nicolas. A Brave Soldier. Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2002. Print.

Fisher, Susan L. Boys and Girls in No Man’s Land. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. Print.

Mickenberg, Julia L. and Philip Nel. “Radical Children’s Literature Now!” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 36.4 (2011): 445-473. Web.

Pennel, Victoria. “Exploring our heritage: An overview of recent Canadian historical fiction for children and young adults.” School Libraries in Canada 22.3 (2003): 5-11. Web.

Rochman, Hazel. “A Brave Soldier by Nicolas Debon.” Rev. of A Brave Soldier, by Nicolas Debon.  The Booklist (2002): 491. Web.

Royde-Smith, Johm Graham.  “World War I (1914-18).” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 22 02 2014. <>.

The Power of Fairy Tales And Nationalism

© 2014 Mariama French, Ryerson University

English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

As a rite of passage in childhood, a decrease in the popularity of the fairy tale genre remains to be seen and thus, its prevalence and importance continues. In 1918, only a month before the official end of World War I, British author Flora Annie Steel asserted her belief in the relevance of the genre with publishing of her book English Fairy Tales which was illustrated by Arthur Rackham. This book in the CLA catalogue, was published in London and New York by Macmillan & Co. and contains 41 fairy tales. Considering the fact that the collection was published just before the end of World War I, this exhibit will examine the genre of fairy tales and discuss the impact that the war had on children, in order to situate the book within the context of the war.

The British Contents

The selection of fairy tales by Steel is diverse as the contents and themes of the tales deal with topics such as etiquette, marriage and the coming of age. In terms of characters, the tales are just as diverse with heroes, heroines and otherworldly figures featuring prominently. The fairy tales present in Steel’s book include “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Mr. Fox”; stories that one could say are still synonymous with the genre even today. What is significant to this collection is the fact that these are not any version of the tales but rather (and specifically) the British version. This is not only reflected in the title of the collection itself but is also asserted from the beginning of its contents with the first tale, “St. George of Merrie England”. The story is about English knight who travels across Egypt, Persia and Morocco performing heroic deeds as one of the Six Champions of Christendom.

“St. George of Merrie England” In Text Illustration by Arthur Rackham

The Six Champions includes knights from France, Spain, Italy and Wales; countries that also banded together in the War to fight against Germany (“Allies”). Tales such as “Tom-Tit-Tot” and “Dick Whittington and His Cat” are included in this collection as they are the Suffolk version of Rumpelstiltskin and a tale of English lore respectively. (Simpson 298; Schacker 726) An important source of the book’s contents was that of Joseph Jacobs’ own collection English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales (published in 1890 and 1894 respectively), evidenced by the fact that 39 of the tales in Steel’s book are also found in those of Jacobs’. (Mistele 155) The tales in Jacobs’ books were taken from both written and oral sources. (Mistele 188) What differentiates Steel’s collection from Jacobs’, is the fact that Steel employed the use of editing in order to add small alterations to her versions of the tales (Mistele 219); hence the “Retold by” feature that is displayed on the book’s title page. The fact that the collection, however, was published with the purpose of having British tales only prior to the end of the war, hints at a theme of nationalism within the book.

Production History and Reception

As indicated by numerous advertisements of the time, including one in London’s The Saturday Review, the main appeal for buyers of the collection was the illustrations drawn by Arthur Rackham. In fact, Macmillan & Co. relied so much on the popularity of Rackham that the initial pressing of the book was done in two editions: an Ordinary Edition and an Edition de Luxe which was not only limited to 500 numbered copies but was also signed by Rackham himself (“Advertisement”; Hudson 170). A copy of the limited edition, which initially sold for £2 12s 6d (“Advertisement”), is currently selling for just over $4,000 in Toronto on the website AbeBooks; making it a collector’s item today. The emphasis on Rackham was not only important to the success of sales, but was also a result of the fact that his drawings are featured heavily throughout the book. In total there are 58

Many’s the beating he had from the broomstick or the ladle. Illustration of “Mr. Fox” by Arthur Rackham

illustrations, 16 of which are full colour plates (with tissue guards) and 42 that are in black and white. The colour plates are particularly interesting as they not only bring the tales to life, but also display the depth of Rackham’s imagination as he depicts their fantastical nature. As per a review in The Bookman, the quality of these illustrations meant that the book was perfect for “all art-loving children”. (“ENGLISH FAIRY TALES”) Another review found that the book would make a great Christmas for an “intelligent child” (“OLD FRIENDS”). The overall reception seemed to be positive, with The Bookman review stating that Steel’s book was one of the more “fascinating” and “artistically produced” out of all the fairy tale books published around Christmas. (“ENGLISH FAIRY TALES”)

A Brief History of The Fairy Tale

The fairy tale genre, as we know it today, had its origins in the oral tradition of storytelling. (Ashliman 2) The only way that these stories could survive is if they were entertaining (Ashliman 50), indicating that people would willingly want to pass them on in order to amuse others. Given the fact that the genre found its origins in the oral tradition, its history can be traced back to a time in which history itself was not recorded. (Jones 1) Additionally, the early written records of almost every culture indicate their pre-existence. (Jones 1) This early presence of tales in every culture reflects the fact that there are different variations of a particular tale and the fact that one tale may be more or less popular in one community than another. (Jones 28) Historically, the prime audience of fairy tales (in their oral form) were adults. (Zipes, Fairy Tales 3) It was only due to writers such as Sarah Fielding and Mme. Leprince de Beaumont that the tales started to be published for children around the mid 18th century. (Zipes, Why Fairy 99) Even then, the written form of the tales was looked down upon by German scholars who found them to be of their utmost purity in the oral form. (Blamires 71) For these German scholars, the act publishing of their beloved tales also became a point of contention with the publishing of one of the most famous collections of fairy tales for children by the Brothers Grimm. (Blamires 71)

She sate down and plaited herself an overall of rushes and a cap to match. Illustration of “Caporushes” by Arthur Rackham

Fairy tales were told with the purpose of entertaining and educating their audiences. (Zipes, Why Fairy 99) In the 1690s, French writer Charles Perrault and the female writers of the salon wrote their tales with the purpose of not only commenting on the youth of their time, but also to guide them on acceptable social behaviors. (Zipes, Fairy Tales 30) As the tales started to be told to an intended audience of children, their tones shifted to that of the cautionary tale. (Davidson and Chaudhri 6) They were also told to children in environments relative to their society such as the court, classroom and even the nursery. (Zipes, Why Fairy 99) What has made the genre popular back then and even today, is the fact that these tales have a wish fulfillment component; that they show how one can achieve happiness, resolve moral conflict and gain a better life. (Zipes, Why Fairy 152) For children specifically, their benefit is not only entertainment but the fact that fairy tales allow them to better understand who they are (as they relate to the main characters) and to ease their anxieties. (Davidson and Chaudhri 5; Zipes, Fairy Tales 1)

Children, Wartime Nationalism & Propaganda

During the First World War, there was a strong sense of British pride and nationalism which resulted from the propaganda that sought to depict the Germans in a negative manner. (Robb 6) This allowed for the breaking down of social barriers relating to gender and class as the focus for citizens was dedicated less to inner conflict and more to that of their German enemy. (Robb 5) The British saw themselves as being the embodiment of values such as peace and democracy, unlike that of their German foe. (Robb 6) As the propaganda against Germany filtered in through newspapers and film (Robb 6), British society sought to invoke nationalism in its young through toys and literature that were war related. (Robb 160) Stories of patriotism were geared to young boys through periodicals such as The Boy’s Own Paper, which featured stories about military training and pictures of military equipment. (Robb 177)

Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar at home. Frontispiece illustration of “Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar” by Arthur Rackham

These periodicals also hoped to instill national pride in their young male readers by having their magazine covers feature boys standing in front of the British flag (Robb 177); boys that their readers could probably relate to and look up to. There were also numerous novel series set during the war that were being published at the time. (Robb 177) These series probably allowed young boys to gain a better understanding of the events of the war and perhaps, served as a source of fantasy for them. British girls were targeted to by periodicals such as Girl Guides’ Gazette which taught them how to “endure the war’s sorrows silently” and to can food and knit socks in order to support their country. (Robb 178) Such content reflected the social codes/expectations of women at the time; especially given their contrast to the content of the boys’ periodicals.  As women’s independence gained more traction during the progression of the war, however, book series which featured characters going on adventures targeted specifically to girls, started to appear. (Robb 178)

“Odds splutter hur nails!” cried the giant, not to be outdone. “Hur can do that hurself.” Illustration of “Jack The Giant Killer” by Arthur Rackham

Outside of literature, children also had a more direct involvement in the war. They were responsible for collecting the leftover fats from cooking in order to aid in the production of scrap metal and explosives for factories which produced war ammunitions. (Robb 174-75) Not only did they use their allowances to buy war bonds, they also had their own gardens which helped with the national production of food. (Robb 175) At school, they also had drills that were military style and had to endure newly established programs such as calisthenics. (Robb 175) The level of British children’s involvement in the war was so vigorous that H.A.L. Fisher, who was the Education Minister at the time, later confessed to the fact that 600,000 children were “‘prematurely’” used for work in the war from 1914 to 1917. (Robb 175)

Steel’s Book In The Context of War

Title Page of English Fairy Tales

Keeping in mind one of the functions of fairy tales as being that of education, in conjunction with the propaganda through literature that was prominent during the war, it is possible to view Steel’s book as a continuation of the nationalistic theme during the war. With its publishing, the book perhaps acts as a tool for children to be proud of their country through its literary history. On the other hand, given the entertainment value that fairy tales have and the nature of children’s involvement during the war (and even that of the war itself), it is possible to place Steel’s book in the position as that of a tool of escapism for children; one that allows them to escape from the harsh realities they have come to know throughout the war years and into that of the imagination. No matter which view is the most plausible or was intended, there is no denying the fact that Steel’s book was meant to be a celebration of the contribution that England made in the development of the fairy tale genre.

English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel is available to read online (with Arthur Rackham’s illustrations) and download at Project Gutenberg.

Works Cited

“Advertisement.” Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art. 126.3291 (1918):1097. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

“Advertisement.” The Spectator. Nov 30 1918: 635. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. Ashliman, D.L. Folk And Fairy Tales: A Handbook. Wesport, C.T. : Greenwood Press, 2004. Print.

“Allies.” Oxford Reference. Philip’s, 2004. Web. 00 Mar. 2014.

Blamires, David. “A Workshop of Editorial Practice: The Grimms’ Kinder-und Hausmärchen.” A Companion To The Fairy Tale. Eds. Hilda E. Davidson and Anna Chaudhri. Woodbridge: Boyder & Brewell, 2006. 71-84. Print.

Davidson, Hilda E., and Anna Chaudhri, eds. A Companion To The Fairy Tale. 2003. Woodbridge: Boyder & Brewell, 2006. Print.

“ENGLISH FAIRY TALES.” The Bookman. 55.327 (1918): 107. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life And Work. 1960. London: Heinemann, 1974. Print.

Jones, Steven S. The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror Of Imagination. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Mistele, Linda Mae Heddle. “In My Father’s House are Many Rooms: A Study of Father-Daughter Relations in French and English Fairy Tales.” Order No. 9404737 The University of Wisconsin – Madison, 1993. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Nicolson, Juliet. The Great Silence, 1918-1920: Living In The Shadow Of The Great War. London: John Murray, 2009. Print.

“OLD FRIENDS.” Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art 126.3294 (1918): 1160. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Robb, George. British Culture And The First World War. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print. Schacker, Jennifer.

“Pantomime”. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktale and Fairy Tales. Ed. Donald Haase. Vol. 2. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. Print.

Simpson, Jacqueline. “English Tales”. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktale and Fairy Tales. Ed. Donald Haase. Vol. 1. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. Print.

Steel, Flora Annie Webster. English Fairy Tales. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1918. Print.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales And The Art Of Subversion: The Classical Genre For Children And The Process Of Civilization. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

—. Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution And Relevance Of A Genre. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Fairy Tales and War through Cyrus Macmillan’s Canadian Wonder Tales

© Copyright 2014 Micheal Vipond, Ryerson University


Front Cover: Canadian Wonder Tales (1918)

F airy tales play a crucial role in childhood. They represent imagination and creativity while allowing children to have a safe way to experience and process mature content, such as poverty, violence, and death. Often, fairy tales act as the first form of exposure children have to other cultures, to morals and values and to the concept of death itself. This sentiment is reflected through Canadian Wonder Tales, published in 1918 by Cyrus Macmillan, which is a collection of Canadian fairy tales and stories located in the Children’s Literature Archive at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario.

First published in 1918 by the John Lane Company, Canadian Wonder Tales was largely written and edited while Macmillan was fighting in France during WWI. Macmillan, as a member of the 7th Siege Battery in France, played a crucial role in the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. Most of his correspondence and editing occurred in between regular military duties while serving in France (Macmillan xii). The collection features illustrations by British artist George Sheringham, who was widely recognized as an influential artist of hist time (“George Sheringham R.D.I. 1937”). The collection was edited and sponsored by Scottish scholar Sir William Peterson, who also contributed the Forward to the book.

The concept of the effect of fairy tales during times of war becomes a critical aspect of childhood development:  fairy tales act as an imaginative escape from the cruel reality of wartime and define foreign cultures in the minds’ of young and impressionable children. During times of heightened hostility amongst different nations and cultures – such as war, fairy tales act as the sole understanding children have of the world around them. These stories mold the perspective children have for their entire lives.


Canadian Wonder Tales is a collection of fairy tales from a Canadian perspective. Macmillan, before he fought in WWI, travelled across Canada hearing stories and tales from fellow travelers, natives, fisherman, sailors, and townsfolk (xii). In similar fashion to how the Grimm brothers collected and wrote their collection of fairy tales a century earlier, Macmillan set out to experience a wide variety of tales that represented Canadian culture (vii). The stories in this collection revolve around the natural wonders of Canada: the fantastic environments of mountains and lakes, the extensive animal life, and the people that inhabit this country.

End Cover Illustration by George Sheringham

Many of the people that told stories to Macmillan brought their tales to Canada after immigrating to the country from foreign lands, specifically Europe. Through this influence, as well as Macmillan’s romanticised European writing style, many of the tales incorporate a European experience or understanding (vii). Combining this European influence with the Aboriginal stories and Canadian landscape, the result is a collection of tales that is uniquely Canadian. These tales focus on the natural wonders of life in Canada and express the multicultural aspects of the country. This collection features 32 various stories including “Glooskap’s Country,” ”The First Mosquito” and “How Summer Came To Canada.” Each story is accompanied by a beautifully drawn illustration from Sheringham in a native style. Sheringham also contributed the native-influenced front and end cover illustrations for a total of 32 pictures.


This collection of stories was largely written and compiled by Macmillan as he fought overseas with many of the stories being written during his time at Vimy Ridge. Canadian Wonder Tales was published in London, New York, and Toronto in 1918. The publishing company – John Lane Company and its subsidiary of The Bodley Head – directed the collection towards children as the target audience (viii). This is evident by their newspaper advertisements in the 1918 Saturday Review newspaper titled “John Lane’s New Books.”

However, this collection of fairy tales is featured directly alongside The Rough Road, which is a fictitious war novel by William J. Locke. The significance of this is that the publishing company recognized a wartime novel and a collection of fairy tales as equals:  they share a similar placing in the advertisement, suggesting they were of relatively equal importance to the company. While it was marketed as a children’s book, the reception of Canadian Wonder Tales demonstrates the crossover between childhood literature and adult literature. This is one significant example highlighting the reduced presence of innocence in childhood as a result of the violence of war.

john lane ad
Saturday Review Advertisement: “John Lane’s New Books” (1918)


Macmillan’s work was highly recognized in Canadian literature, especially in terms of his native stories and content. In a December 1955 review from the Globe and Mail, the author acknowledges another collection written by Macmillan called Glooskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales. This was published more than 30 years after Canadian Wonder Tales, yet features many of the native stories from Macmillan’s original collection. The author of the review recognizes Macmillan as a master craftsman of storytelling (Pratt 16). This demonstrates how Macmillan’s work continued to be relevant in a Canadian and native context for years after Canadian Wonder Tales was published, highlighting both the significance of the work and the importance of the author.

“The Great Eagle Made the Winds for Him” by George Sheringham

Another article from the Globe and Mail in November of 1956 recognizes Macmillan as the winner of the Bronze Book-of-the-Year medal from the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians for his collection Glookskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales. This further demonstrates how Macmillan’s work in Canadian Wonder Tales continued to be relevant and significant to Canadian literature – especially children’s literature – even after his death in 1953 (“The Fly Leaf” 13).

According to Priscilla Ord and Carole H. Carpenter, Canadian literature is overshadowed by American and British literature. Very little Canadian literature is produced in comparison to these sister countries. However, they argue that the content of these books is uniquely Canadian, separating itself from the likes of American imperialism and British themes, and revealing critical cultural elements of Canada (Ord and Carpenter 3). This idea is reflected in Canadian Wonder Tales, which portrays an exclusively Canadian perspective and has been recognized for such an achievement.

Scholarly Significance:

Both Macmillan and Peterson were respected leaders in the field of education and literature. Macmillan, before going to France, was the Head of the English Department at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, while Peterson was the Principal of the University through wartime. Each man played a significant role in the Canadian war effort.

House of Commons, 1940: Cyrus Macmillan

Peterson led McGill’s contribution to the war, lending his campus and facilities to the training of Canadian troops. He was an avid supporter of volunteer soldiers, sending volunteer students and faculty to Europe in McGill regiments that came to be known as the No. 7 Siege Battery. Macmillan volunteered to fight in France as a member of the 7th Battery, which played a crucial role in the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge:  both a defining moment in WWI and in Canadian history (Macmillan 261).

Men of Canada: Sir William Peterson

Each man was heavily involved in the Canadian war effort, and each acted as though this collection of tales was of utmost importance to produce during this time. Macmillan spent his shifts off writing and editing the collection, while Peterson spent his spare time editing Macmillan’s work (Macmillan vii). It must be acknowledged that these trusted and respected literary scholars believed in the importance of Canadian Wonder Tales so much that they wrote, edited, and published the book while contributing to the Canadian war effort.

Effect of Fairy Tales on Childhood Development:

According to literary scholars and analysts Marilyn Fleer and Marie Hammer, fairy tales play a key role in the cognitive development of children. They act as cultural devices that allow children to develop tools for emotional regulation (Fleer and Hammer 240). In their analysis, Fleer and Hammer suggest that children incorporate the ideas and concepts of fairy tales and other children’s stories to understand situations in their everyday lives. These situations are emotionally charged, allowing children to experience them and gain an understanding of the imaginative space without feeling threatened (256).

Furthermore, Fleer and Hammer argue that illustrations make the text more engaging for children (250). The detailed illustrations from Sheringham in both black and white and colour contribute to visual stimulation and imagination for children, making the collection more interesting and appealing for younger audiences. These theories of cognitive development directly apply to Canadian Wonder Tales. Both Macmillan and Peterson, as literary scholars, recognized the pedagogical merit of fairy tales and stories – especially during times of violence – and made it their goal for Canadian children to be able to experience these situations and process their emotions in a safe environment.

Fairy Tales and Violence:

During WWI, fairy tales were a safe and simple way for children to understand the perils of violence and death while seeing these evils presented with positive resolution:  the hero is almost exclusively victorious in these stories.

“The Girl Looked Through the Hole, and Saw the Earth Far Beneath Her” by George Sheringham

For example, in “Star-Boy and the Sun Dance,” the young man known as “Star-Boy” is born poor and with an ugly scar on his face which prevents him from marrying the girl he loves. After a long and treacherous journey, the boy meets the Sun and Moon, who promise to remove his scar and guarantee the love of this girl if he has an annual festival in their honour. They boy accepts this deal and they deliver on their promise. The boy marries the girl and lives the rest of his life in happiness (Macmillan 12). This story demonstrates that a child, born into poverty and a victim of violence, can rise from this situation to become happy. This tale is a perfect comparison to children who grew up as victims of poverty and the violence of war, offering hope and happiness and allowing them to cope with the perils of their reality.

Children are able to relate to the characters in these stories and better understand their role in the world through the experiences of these fictional characters (Fleer and Hammer 241). During a time in Canadian culture when the innocence of childhood was sparse, Canadian Wonder Tales was able to reintegrate imagination and creativity into the lives of children, helping them to cope with the mature content of violence and death that surrounded their everyday lives. By reading and understanding the situations in fairy tales, children are able to understand their own circumstances (Feuerverger 234). This learning tool helped mold an entire generation of Canadian children.

Fairy Tales as a Tool for Reflection:

This important role of fairy tales in childhood development is recognized through adulthood. According to researcher Donald Haase, fairy tales act as a point of reference for adults. These stories allow adults to reflect upon how they responded to cultural and societal revelations as children. Specifically, adults acknowledge how they were exposed to specific ideas – such as death, violence, and poverty – through stories (Haase 361). The significance of this is that is demonstrates the impact fairy tales have on children throughout their entire lives.

“That Night When all the Village was Asleep, The Boy Went to the Foot of the Mountain” by George Sheringham

Furthermore, these stories act as the foundation of cognitive development in adults; this understanding is recognized through adulthood (362). This idea supports the strong reception of stories in Canadian Wonder Tales through the 1950’s. Adults in the 1950’s reflect upon literature from their childhood, such as Canadian Wonder Tales, and recognize its significance in their cognitive development. These adults continue to acknowledge the text for its impact on Canadian literary society and its influence on their own lives as children. The strong praise the text and author received decades after its publishing support the concept that fairy tales play a pivotal role in childhood development and the education of society as a whole.


Through analysing the effects of fairy tales on childhood development, it is evident that the imaginative space of the stories in Canadian Wonder Tales contributed to children’s understanding of the violent world around them during the years of WWI. By allowing children to both understand violence and explore the imaginative space of fairy tales in a safe way, this collection of stories acted as an escape for children who were thrust into maturity because of the violent era they experienced. After acknowledging the scholarly virtues of Macmillan and Peterson, as well as their extensive contributions to the war effort overseas, it should be recognized that the production of Canadian Wonder Tales was their contribution to the Canadian war effort at home.

Further Reading:

The Complete Collection – Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus Macmillan

Works Cited:

Cooper, John A. Men of Canada. Montreal : Canadian Historical Co., 1901. Internet Archive. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Feuerverger, Grace. “Fairy Tales and Other Stories as Spiritual Guides for Children of War: An Auto-Ethnographic Perspective.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 15.3 (2010): 233–245. EBSCOhost. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Fleer, Marilyn. “Emotions in Imaginative Situations: The Valued Place of Fairytales for Supporting Emotion Regulation.” 20.3 (2013): 240–259. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

“George Sheringham, R.D.I.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 86.4435 (1937): ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Haase, Donald. “Children, War, and the Imaginative Space of Fairy Tales.” The John Hopkins University Press: The Lion and the Unicorn 24.3 (2000): 360–377. ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb 2014.

“John Lane’s New Books.” The Saturday Review 23 Nov. 1918 : 16–16. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Macmillan, Cyrus. Canadian Wonder Tales. Illustrated by George Sheringham. Second Edition. New York: John Lane Company, 1918. Print.

Macmillan, Cyrus. McGill and Its Story, 1821-1921. New York: John Lane Company, 1921. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Ord, Priscilla, and Carpenter, Carole Henderson. “Canadian Children’s Literature: A Cultural Mirror.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 2.3 (1977): 3–6. Project MUSE. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Pratt, Viola. “Classic Canadian Legends.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) 10 Dec. 1955. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

“The Fly Leaf.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) 17 Nov. 1956. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

“The Honourable Cyrus Macmillan, P.C.” Parliament of Canada. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.